2016 in music

2016 was an atrocious year. We lost a ton of people whose work and/or art made the world a better place on a grand scale. The West slipped further to the right as fear of the mysterious "other" was sold by governments to embolden an ever more more power starved, massively wealthy, microscopic, oligarchic class. The United States took a dangerous step towards fascism and openly embraced this oligarchy. Global climate change continued to wreak havoc. Black men continued to be literally executed without trial on America's streets. Self appointed pundits like Tomi Lahren decried Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization while actual terrorists continued to rape and murder in Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world. Richard Spencer and his merry band of neo nazis bolstered by a sociopath president elect crawled out of the sewer and found a megaphone for their racist, misogynist, anti semitic agenda. The patriarchy stood fully entrenched. The glass ceiling remained intact. Some will call it a normal year. I thought it fucking sucked.

But the music, oh man. It was outstanding. Truly. Here are the records that helped get me through a year that I'd like to retroactively alter in my memory.

1. Frightened Rabbit - Painting of Panic
Favorite track: I Wish I Was Sober

2. Margaret Glaspy - Emotions and Math
Favorite track: You and I

3. David Bowie - Blackstar
Favorite track: Blackstar

4. Conor Oberst - Ruminations
Favorite track: A Little Uncanny

5. Shovels and Rope - Little Seeds
Favorite track: St. Anne's Parade

6. Kalyn Fay - Bible Belt
Favorite track: The Fight

7. David Bazan - Blanco
Favorite track: Trouble With Boys

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
Favorite Track: Rings of Saturn

9. Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
Favorite track: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

10. Emily Scott Robinson - Magnolia Queen
Favorite track: Ricochet Lines

11. Heather Styka - The Bittersweet Tapes
Favorite track: Blue Vintage Dress

12. Daughter - Not To Disappear
Favorite track: Doing The Right Thing

13. A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here...Thank You 4 Your service
Favorite track: We The People....

14. Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter
Favorite track: Hurtin' (On the Bottle)

15. Mitski - Puberty2
Favorite track: Your Best American Girl 

16. Whitney - Light Upon the Lake
Favorite track: The Falls 

17. Tegan and Sara - Love You To Death
Favorite track: Boyfriend 

18. Yuck - Stranger Things
Favorite track: Stranger Things 

19. Becky Warren - War Surplus
Favorite track: I Miss You 

20. Nada Surf - You Know Who You Are
Favorite track: Friend Hospital 

21. of Montreal - Innocence Reaches
Favorite track: it's different for girls 

22. Wolfie's Just Fine - I Remembered but Then I Forgot
Favorite track: Marie-Eve 

23. The Blind Suns - I Can Sea You
Favorite track: American Psycho 

24. Weezer - Weezer (White Album)
Favorite track: California Kids 

25. Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
Favorite track: Chance 

26. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker
Favorite track: You Want It Darker 

27. Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life
Favorite track: Irene 

28. Angel Olsen - MY WOMAN
Favorite track: Shut Up Kiss Me 

29. Emmy The Great - Second Love
Favorite track: Swimming Pool 

30. Kyle Craft - Dolls of Highland
Favorite track: Berlin

Hummus for President

I went to Trader Joe's today with my friend Lucky to buy some pomegranate walnut hummus. I am grateful to be alive at a time when there are so many luxury, faux Mediterranean, corn chip dip options. That got me to thinking. I love the freedom to go to the store and get whatever I want and be treated decently and not ignored or disrespected because of things I can't control like the fact that I'm a guy or that I'm caucasian.

I had a conversation with my friend Brooksie when I was at her house a couple weeks ago. She told me about being married in the 70s and not being able to get a credit card in her own name as a married woman. Crazy. It makes sense that the ERA gained traction around that time. It had been hanging out since 1923 and not ratified. I'm glad people started to mobilize and fought to pass equal rights for women in the 70s. Good work America! Although it never happened. The ERA STILL hasn't passed, to this day. Weird. I like women. A lot of them enjoy hummus just like I do. It seems that Constitutionally protecting their equality is a no brainer. 

Oh oh! Do you know who else's rights aren't federally protected? Gay people. Yeah, shocker right? There's a major American political organization whose platform is chock full of meaty little bits of discrimination. They want to overturn the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, discourage gay couples from adoption, make "conversion therapy" legal for minors, and actively oppose LGBTQ civil rights protections. Chewy. Teriyaki? 

Look, my experiences are limited. I'm a straight, white guy. I've only been discriminated against...(let me think about that one and get back to you). It took me a minute to understand that this election coming up is a bigger than me. I have a dirty narcissistic streak and tend to not see past my ever expanding waistline. I supported Bernie and the Democratic party fucked him like a blow up doll at frat party. The Clintons are The Establishment incarnate. I hate the whole fucking system. So to hell with it all. Get me some caramelized onion and paprika hummus and a fucking spoon. I'm O U T. The gays will be fine. THEY HAVE GLITTER. Uh.....

But this election IS bigger than me. Probably bigger than you too. Women, Blacks, LGBTQ, Muslims, Mexicans, anyone who doesn't look like the man in my mirror, stand to get fucked a hell of a lot worse than Bernie Sanders did by the Democrats if America's most notorious, self proclaimed, non-consensual pussy grabber gets handed a tic tac and the keys to the White House. The system is broken. Neither of these candidates is gonna fix it. But one will make it significantly worse for a whole lot of folks. You know this. The question is how many fucks do you give?

What's behind the winning smile?

I have a song called "Orlando" about homophobia and gun violence and dancing in the wake of tragedy. It's coming out as one of a couple b-sides to the single "Dead Man's Shoes" later this year if we stay on target after this record drops. The takeaway line in that song for me though, and I think the most personal, doesn't have anything to do with the capital B Big issues. It's this one, "Some places you think aren't cool until you go." Awkward wording out of context with the melody. Whatever.

I'm from New York City and I used to hate everywhere else. Not hyperbole. Just a fact ma'am. Ain't nothing like the Big Apple. Hard stop. I've been gradually increasing my time on the road since 2014 until now when I pretty much live in a mini van. It has been a tough transition. I spent the first 18 months going from place to place sizing everywhere up in comparison to home like a guy with an OkCupid profile insisting that a woman has to be a vegan, atheist, sober, non-smoker, medium build, brunette, under 5' 10", who loves The Smiths in order to be dateable (as a side note, if that's you MESSAGE ME IMMEDIATELY). I measured everywhere I went against New York and that's ridiculous. It's like comparing anyone you date to a spouse that passed away. That person takes on a mythological level of majesty and perfection. Our memories have a way of inflating and stretching reality to fit our desires. Brains are crazy. The fuck do zombies eat them? 

When you let go of your preconceptions life becomes richer. Seems obvious. But goddamn if it isn't the hardest fucking thing to do. I had to look past the things on my laundry list of "what makes a city awesome" and figure out what made wherever I was unique and valuable in that moment. It started small: this place has a Publix (the greatest grocery store chain ever), this town has a cool bar where the male patrons look like rednecks but they talk about Dostoyevsky (readnecks?), this place has fast traffic lights after 9:00pm. Eventually I came to realize that the cities themselves don't mean much at all. The buildings, rivers, all window dressing. Like blonde, brunette, red head, short, tall, etc. What's behind the winning smile? 

That's it essentially. Dating principles apply to discovering the truth about urban spaces. People are the brains of any municipality just like, well, brains are the brains of people. ("That Rue Snider, he's a motherfucking wordsmith!"). Once it became clear to me that people are what make cities special I really started to enjoy touring. Longing for something I didn't have in the moment became the same as dismissing a date because of her lipstick (I have very strong opinions about this) or her record collection. Do you have any idea how many amazing women I know that own Taylor Swift records? It's ASTOUNDING. It's a whole "throw the first stone" situation though. I never confess to anyone that the second album I ever bought was "Age To Age" by Amy Grant. Please keep that to yourself.

Now I have a rich network of wonderful friends scattered all over the country who love where they live and through them I've come to love where they live too. I spend more time in Birmingham now than I do in Brooklyn and that's not happenstance.

It's been a struggle for me to put away my preconceived notions about most things in life but as I do I get so much happier. Yeah. Happier. I'm happy. Almost all of the time. That very bland sounding but spectacular state of mind occurs in direct proportion with my willingness to let go and learn. To listen and discover new places through other people's eyes. To be confident enough in myself to not be threatened by ways of living and thinking that are different than mine. It's a big fucking world out there. 

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin

Baby Steps to Esthero

I wasn't a part of the music industry in the 90s. I hear stories though. Whoa. Money flowing like chocolate in a fondu fountain at a Bat Mitzvah in Jersey. I have a friend that was in a band on a major label in the mid 90s. The label sent them to England and put them up in a huge house (he referred to it as a castle) complete with personal chef and all the other amenities, if you know what I'm saying. I think it cost two hundred thousand dollars. They got dropped and the record was never released.

I'm making baby baby steps into the music industry now. That's not an intentional Amy Grant reference. I mean steps that are baby steps to baby steps. Really fucking small steps. It's like tunneling out of Alcatraz with one of those cheap, Taco Bell plastic sporks that's already broken twice. It's like the world's slowest strip tease. "Just sit here, don't look away. She took some quaaludes from a time capsule we dug up in the parking lot from 1973. You might have to stay until Tuesday but it's TOTALLY worth it." It's like watching a political candidate implode.

I suppose I'm on the outside of the industry looking in like a kid who secretly stumbles into one of those booths with girls behind glass that they had in the 80s. He's not sure if he should be excited or revolted. Kids could get away with anything back then. I tour and kick up dirt. I try to draw attention to myself. I build my online presence like a good indie rock solider who rocks quietly.

The first tour of any length was me and James out for 6 weeks. I didn't know yet that the easiest way to save money is to go by yourself. I needed something to sell but I didn't have money to invest and I didn't have any fans to speak of. So when I was home in Pennsylvania my dad and I bought 50 shirts at Goodwill, he made a stencil, and I spray painted my name on them. None of them matched. Some already had things printed on one side. The sizes were totally fucked. It was glorious. People actually bought them. All of them. It was like playing catch in the back yard with my dad but instead he and I were in the basement dressed like Walter White and Jesse Pinkman wearing masks trying not to inhale paint fumes. Huffing is bad kids. Very very bad. We made a second batch six months later. Ten bucks each. I think they cost less than three dollars to make. Good times.

I put out Leaving To Returning last year and was preparing to embark on a tour for a year. The spray paint wasn't gonna cut it. Alice Marie designed a really cool shirt from a picture she took of a car. Sometimes people would ask me what the deal was with the car. Still we moved a hundred of them and ordered another batch. Twenty dollars a piece this time. They cost way more to produce than my spray painted shirts but the mediums were ALL medium and the smalls were ALL small. No more sizing grab bag. Upside, people could purchase with confidence and my brand was represented better. Downside, girls were way less likely to need to try on the shirts at the merch table. We crowd funded the shit out of those. 

"What's the deal with the car?"
"Look it's not that esoteric, THE RECORD IS CALLED LEAVING TO RETURNING."
"Esoteric, wasn't she a singer in the 80s?"

New album. New tour. New shirt. I put my face on this one holding a dog to diminish frustrating inquiries. I'm pretty sure the only question my face begs is "are you single?" The record is called Broken Window. I was thinking about calling it, This Was Not Made In an English Castle For $200,000 but that felt just a little too on the nose. 

The shirt doesn't exist yet. It's a dream just like all the New Years babies in April. We spent the house and the kids and the picket fence on the record. It seems like such a long way from the spray paint and the stencil. But this ain't 90s kids and there aren't guys lining up with cigars and sunglasses telling me they can sell the tunes if I put more compression on the guitars. This is strictly do it alone. DIY. 

We're looking for partners to help us get these made. Fifty partners actually. No, there isn't any possibility of disease transmission, which obviously diminishes the excitement of the partnership. Different kind of partners. We need to pre sell fifty tee shirts, for real, in order to begin manufacturing. This isn't a clever attempt to advertise or get a leg up. There's no castle and no Swiss bank with a big RS on it. I can't go back to the spray paint, even though it was fun trying not to huff fumes with my dad.

Here's the offer. The new tee shirt, the new cd, the new sticker, plus download of the cd, and free shipping in the USA for $20. I think that's a hell of a deal. Like I said the tee shirt is my countenance. It's very easily defaceable if that's your thing. Maybe we dated and you're reading this. Don't be shy.

I appreciate those of you who are along for the ride. I'm glad the songs mean something to a few folks. I'm grateful to continue to do what I love. If you want to get involved and be a patron of the arts, as they say, the merch bundle is here

Reflections on a year spent touring part 2

If you're reading this it's likely we met somewhere along the way. Thanks for being a part of my life whether we've known each other since the cradle or we met after a show and you said something kind like, "I bet you're tired. Do you need a couch to sleep on tonight? How about some soup. It's vegan." Thank you for playing your part. 

Traveling around the country playing songs isn't glamorous. I do it because I love it and when it works the joy is resplendent. A lot of the time it's a really grueling job. "You don't work you don't eat" holds true just as much in music as it does anywhere else so I press on. 

It's difficult to explain to people who haven't spent significant time on the road what it's like. On an average day I wake up around 9 and eat an apple and some peanut butter. I head to a coffee shop and do computer work there (mostly booking) for 5-10 hours. Less hours on show days. If I have a concert that night then I'l drive to the show, eat some food along the way that I make in the car, maybe pita chips and a jar of salsa. Depending on when I arrive I'll go to a movie first, then load in and play the show. The next day is the same but it's in a different place. On days when there isn't a show I'll work until the coffee shop closes or until I'm too hungry to focus then go see a movie. It's very regimented. Very math. Every day I'm doing the same things but every day is a different location and different people. The movement becomes tangible. When I'm off the road I notice its absence.

I imagine it's similar to a person who spends a lot of time at sea. It's like being deprived of a nutrient and always feeling not quite right. The routine of work combines with the transience of touring and creates something new. Most folks feel a sense of community and peacefulness in a particular location. The more I travel the more I feel at home moving. I have pockets of friends around the country I've grown accustomed to seeing every couple months and it throws me off when I don't see them for long stretches.

In my road warped brain Austin, Tulsa, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Orlando are neighbors. I've left Nebraska and woken up in Florida two days later then played a show in Texas in less than a week. For a while I was surprised when someone from New Orleans had never been to Houston or someone from Pittsburgh didn't know what Cincinnati looks like. I got over that. Americans don't travel. Not much.

Stillness is my enemy. Not literal stillness. The absence of movement from place to place. I find it incredibly difficult to even type this post having been in Brooklyn for two weeks, which would be very easy to do if I was at a Starbucks off of Interstate 4 in Florida. This has lead me to wonder if everyone who loves what they do finds it difficult to balance the part of life people call "living" and digging into the work that they enjoy. I see it as a gift that I get to define my time and space by literally driving to a new location. I don't have to make excuses or apologize for not coming to birthdays and parties. I'm not there. It's interesting. It changes the way I interact with people. 

The best advice I got from anyone was from a guy I met in Tulsa who I really like. He toured for years with a metal band. 300 dates a year. Now he has kids and is off the road. "Do it for as long as you possibly can," he said. I asked, "Do you miss it?" He replied without taking a breath, "Every fucking day."

Reflections on a year spent touring part 1

Let's start with the math. It's Aug 1, 2016. Since this time last year I played 160 shows. I put out a 14 track record Leaving To Returning, released a 3 song single Never Met a Girl I Didn't Love, wrote and recorded the 3 song single The New New Colossus literally in my van, attended and played at Folk Alliance International, attended and played at SXSW, recorded a new 12 song record to be released in October, put out the first single "Blackout," released The New New Colossus as a cassette EP on Infintesmal Records, secured management, built a new website (with the help of said management), wrote another dozen or so songs nobody has heard, became vegan, stayed sober (14 1/2 months and counting), saw over 100 movies in the theater, and still found time to jump off a ten foot cliff and swim in a quarry at 1:30 in the morning during an electrical storm with a beautiful woman. People only ever ask about the girls. Here's a secret, music is a business. If you're in it for the ass I wish you the best. I'm trying to make it to the cover of Tiger Beat magazine. My manager told me yesterday that's still on the table. Sometimes she tells me what I want to hear.

Oh to be as unique and privileged as me! Fairy tale rock n roll dream! Sure. I mean I own an electric guitar and an amplifier. But here's the truth. I left New York City September 1 last year with $337 dollars in my wallet and $76 in the bank. Most people would call that the "wrong amount of money" to set out with. But I stayed on the road for 11 months. I slept in the van, I slept on floors, I slept on filthy dirty couches, and the most insane motels you can imagine. I ate peanut butter, corn tortillas, and organic apples in my van 3 meals a day, day after day. I got a Starbucks gold card so I had access to internet and free coffee refills. I spent 8 or more hours at one of their locations more or less daily. I brushed my teeth in Walmart bathrooms. I stayed in houses that were so gross I wouldn't take a shower even if it had been a week. I played one show, then I played the next show, then I played the next show. Nothing else mattered. Sounds like a metal song. I met friends along the way who made things easier (like way fucking easier). But they don't come in until the next post. Keep your pants on (or maybe don't....)

I discovered that pursuit of a goal has to be absolute. That is if you actually intend to turn that goal into reality. I defined what "awesome" meant because that's what I wanted to be. It was clear it was gonna be hard. Really fucking hard. I asked myself these questions: How much will you give to get what you want out of life? How far will you go? How much rejection will you take? How big of a fool will you play? What are you willing to say goodbye to forever? Who will you walk away from when they are in the way of where you're headed? What price is too high to get what you want? 

I didn't take a vow of poverty. Quite the contrary I look forward to living very comfortably. Did I mention how amazing my manager is? But I'm willing to be poor, for as long as it takes (even if that's forever). All the money I make is in service to my dream and making it a reality. All of it. I don't know any other way to behave anymore. I lived in New York City for a decade spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on rent, having a good time, and stuff. I used to have stuff. At one point I think I had four spatulas. You know what? You don't need four goddamn spatulas.

So there is a paring down period. What can you strip away? I asked. What don't you need. What is functional and valuable that you don't use? What can you get rid of that will hurt but not change your life? What are you holding onto that doesn't move you closer to your dream but you permit to define you? Those things had to go first. Not all of those things are tangible.

How do you survive on the road (or in service to any dream)? You close the back doors. All of them. You GO. You DON'T STOP. You permit nothing to get in your way. I've discovered as I've met more and more people that the behaviors I adopted to create the life I desire apply more or less universally. The answers are different if the goal is to be a CFO or to work for Doctors Without Borders. But the questions are the same.

I met a woman in Ohio who has her hand in a lot of pots. She does things that help people. She has some money. Unfortunately her idea of "people in need" is battered women, starving children, and refugees, not songwriters who can't afford to make a record a year without going into debt and who consider splurging getting a vegan burrito from Taco Bell. She said to me after we talked for a while, "So you gave up the American Dream to go after the American Dream." I thought that was pretty cool. Also, since it's not the 50s, I think that applies to most folks. Because it's not just the music business that is all fucked up. Whatever you want you have to GO GET IT. Not everyone's dream requires driving around the country and literally kicking up dirt, but you 're gonna eventually be kicking up dirt one way or another. The world has changed.

This post isn't about the world though. It's about me. It's about me being a completely normal guy from a middle class family trying to do what I define as extraordinary and refusing to fail. I'm not unique. I'm not special. I'm just old enough to have defined what I want. I'm also old enough to realize that death comes for us all. That doesn't scare me. It gets my ass out of bed every morning. It keeps me working like a crazy person because I only get one shot at this shit.

Being on the road you begin to realize how fragile life is. You see things, car crashes, dead bodies on the highway, broken people who probably weren't always broken. You see substance abuse, loneliness, and neglect. Sometimes you hear about babies being born and people being healed of diseases but more often you hear about miscarriages and parents passing. You see friends who have people very close to them die. Suddenly. You have friends die. Life is so short and fragile.

It took me a long goddamn time to figure out what I want out of it. And now I'm taking it. I'll say it again, I'm not special. None of us are. Also none of us have very long. Death wants us and it will win. So dream big. BIG. Once I figured out that I was my own worst enemy everything changed. I want to say that's true for all of us but maybe your husband is an enormous fucker who cheats on you with prostitutes or your mom's a bitch who always calls you fat. I don't know.

Anyway, I haven't got there yet but I'm way passed the beginning and I'm not looking back. I keep moving forward, writing songs, trying not to be too big of an asshole, while staying firmly planted in the present.  It's about the journey. Most people who are around now won't be around at the end anyway. Remember the very end of Mockingjay? That shit was so stupid.

Good talk. 

Welcome To the NEW website!!

Hey everyone! Amanda (my no sleep even in Brooklyn manager) built this goddamn thing and we finished it together. Check it out! I'm excited to have some new furniture. 

BTW, do you know that the second single from the forthcoming record Broken Window is available for pre-order? Totally.


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